There’s no doubt that a breast cancer diagnosis will change your life forever. 

Where time was once spent at work, social events and with loved ones, then turns to doctors’ appointments, testing, assessments and decisions. And unfortunately because of it — everything else is set aside.

But not for one woman.

For school principal turned entrepreneur Taneea Yarborough, she wasn’t going to let her dreams of opening a plant based restaurant in Baltimore be led astray. Already known as a food desert, many residents in the city don’t have ready access to healthy, affordable food and Taneea and her husband James wanted to do something about it. 

But she had one thing standing in the way — a bilateral double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery due to be scheduled just two weeks after her scheduled restaurant opening of her Gangster Vegan franchise.

Despite the fact, she preserved and accomplished both. The now cancer survivor officially opened her doors this September. Here, she chats with ESSENCE about the road to officially opening its doors.

When you think of Black women in general — you think of resilience and perseverance — both of which you exemplify. You’ve had your own personal challenges during your journey, such as being diagnosed with breast cancer. How did you overcome that diagnosis?

If I am being completely honest, I don’t think I have overcome that diagnosis. I am a new survivor, so I am very much still taking it day by day. My wellness routine, which includes a plant-based diet, talk therapy, meditation, journaling – amongst other things — have enabled me to have a few more good days during this journey. 

Credit: Adam McMillan

Taneea and James Yarborough
Credit: Adam McMillan

Despite having your bilateral double mastectomy scheduled, you still decided to open up your restaurant, Gangster Vegan as scheduled. What were the challenges that you faced while managing both your personal and professional life?

One thing that being a 30-year-old cancer survivor has taught me is that time is a luxury, and I will never take it for granted again! I knew I wanted to share our mission with as many people as possible, and honestly, I didn’t have the benefit of waiting until everything was perfectly ready. I think one of the biggest challenges in this entire process of opening a restaurant was balancing my health (at the time I was getting weekly chemotherapy) with the demands of being an entrepreneur with a brand-new business.

Nothing about this process was made easier for me because I was fighting cancer. So, I went to the doctor 2-3 times a week, and still was spending 50-hour weeks in the store. 

 What sparked the transition from school administrator to holistic health?

As a school administrator, I have a front seat to health being ignored from so many angles – from student nutrition to teacher stress management. If I was going to really heal, I needed to make a huge change to my environment and pace. As a new business owner, I am working just as many hours, maybe more, than I did in the school building. But spending my day surrounded by whole organic produce – and talking to people about how our food at Gangster Vegan DMV is helping them on their journey of healing and wellness allow this to not feel like work. 

What are some easy tips that everyone can adopt to better their overall health and wellbeing?

If someone isn’t ready for an all-raw plant-based diet that Gangster Vegan offers, they can start small. Adopt one plant-based meal a week and slowly increase that number. We have items on our menu like Walnut Taco Meat and Sunflower Seed Toona (tuna) that are great for someone starting to make whole food diet changes. Drink quality water, get sun, move your body, and pay attention to what makes you feel good. We can’t control everything, but we do control what we consume. As a survivor, it’s important for me to tell people that you still have an opportunity to take control of your health and that it is definitely worth it! 

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